Empowering Girls Through Sports: Inspiring Story of Sanjeev Sharma
Mr. Sanjeev Sharma has no intention to stop. He wants to continue in his journey of empowering girls through sports. He believes that education is beyond books.
It is said that the true measure of success is the number of people touched and transformed by one’s success. Success is not about gaining leadership but it is about empowering people. Mr. Sanjeev Sharma, a government school teacher working in Pouni hills, Reasi district, from UT of Jammu & Kashmir has lived his life to this definition of success. He is a former national-level wrestler, who started a new journey as a teacher in the year 2009 from Government High School Kundkhaniyari, Reasi, Jammu. A true sportsman by heart, he founded the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Ko Khiladi Banao ‘ initiative in 2016 under which he has transformed the lives of hundreds of government school students by encouraging them to join sports. He continues to encourage and inspire young sports enthusiasts in the valley.
Unlocking hidden potential
When Mr. Sharma joined Government High School Kundkhaniyari, Reasi in 2009 as a general subject teacher, he noticed that young students were very active, enthusiastic, and passionate about sports. Despite any formal training they played very well. Unfortunately, the school did not have any physical education coach to guide children, so Mr. Sharma decided to take over and mentor school children for free. When he started training children, he noticed that despite having exceptionally good potential there was a lack of participation by girls. Girls in the valley were surrounded by stereotypes and lacked encouragement to join sports. Mr. Sharma, an advocate of equality decided to dedicate his life to this cause of empowering girls through sports.
Mr. Sharma started organizing sports camps in different villages and government schools where he would encourage as well as coach girls to play different sports. He has successfully organized more than 100 awareness campaigns about female participation in sports in remote villages of Jammu which remain unconnected to roads due to extreme terrain conditions. Mr. Sharma assisted by his wife Smt. Anuradha Sharma and volunteers like Nisha Sharma walked miles through the forest to reach isolated villages and spread awareness.
In 2016, getting inspired by the Government of India’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao initiative, Mr. Sharma launched the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti ko Khiladi Banao’ initiative in the valley. From going house to house convincing parents to encourage and support their daughters to join sports to discerning government schools to find potential players, organizing them into a team, and training them to play at district and state level, Mr. Sharma has done it all. Dangals or locally organized mud wrestling competitions were fully male-dominated in the region, it was Mr. Sharma who decided to break the stereotype and facilitated 1st ever Dangal in the region with female participants in 2015 and his efforts were successful as female participation in Dangals was normalized by 2018 in the region. His students have brought laurels at the district, state, and national levels in wrestling and are grateful for his mentorship. He continues to transform the lives of government school students in the region.
Here are five girls who transformed their lives via sports under the guidance of Mr. Sanjeev Sharma. These girls are inspiration to hundreds of young girls in the valley who aspire to excel in sports.
Walking on the footsteps of her mentor – meet Nisha Sharma
“My only aim right now is to provide these young girls with early training which I did not have access to and make them capable enough to play at the international level,” says Nisha Sharma, a wrestler who volunteered to coach girls under ‘Beti ko Khiladi Banao’ initiative. Nisha is born in a small remote village in the foothills of Jammu. Her village continues to be isolated from roads and vehicles. From her childhood, she was very active and played kho-kho, kabaddi, and badminton with her friends. Despite her interest in sports, she did not get any professional training. She recalls the time when she was in 9th grade and her school took her to a district-level shot put competition. Without any training and practice, Nisha gave an exceptional performance, better than those trained, and won a gold medal. She felt joyous and wanted to play more however she did not get the opportunity. The opportunity arrived 4 years later when she joined Jammu University for her graduation. Her college actively encouraged girls and mentored them in their journey in sports. This is when she got the mentorship of Mr. Sharma and learned wrestling. She created history by becoming the 1st and only girl from UT Jammu & Kashmir to bring home a bronze medal in wrestling in all India Inter-University Games. Since then she has played more than 35 wrestling championships locally and 7 at the national level. She continues to mentor and coach young girls in sports.
Victory over fear – meet Arfana Akhter
” Now that I have started playing, I will never quit ” says 20 years old Arfana Akhter, who has participated in more than 50 wrestling championships in past 4 years. Her journey started in 2017 when Mr. Sanjeev Sharma joined Government Girls High School, Pouni, where Arfana was a 9th-grade student. “It was Sanjeev sir who introduced me to wrestling and whatever I have learned and achieved, I owe it all to him,” says Arfana. she recalls how her sir would motivate them during morning assembly to participate in sports. He would tell stories of sportswomen like Phogat sisters, PT Usha, PV Sindhu, etc to inspire young girls. Arfana was interested in sport from a young age. She played games like kabaddi and kho-kho with her friends but never got an opportunity to formally learn any sports since there were no physical education coaches in her school. Arfana in 2017 under the guidance of Mr. Sharma got trained and was a part of the first-ever district level Dangal competition with female participants. In the same year, she played a district-level wrestling tournament and brought home a gold medal. This was followed by a state-level tournament and yet another gold medal. Since then there is no turning back for her. She continues her journey and aspires to play nationally soon.
Daughter of Kashmir aspires to shine internationally – meet Adeela Shafiq Khan
“Girls can excel in anything and everything, all they require is a platform,” says Adeela Shafiq Khan, a 21-year-old athlete from Bhudgam, Kashmir. Having won more than 7 gold medals, she is a trained wrestler and a powerlifter. Adeela would often go to watch Dangals and locally organized wrestling competitions where Mr. Sharma’s female students participated and he abjudicated. She was inspired by students of Mr. Sharma who were of her age and decided to learn wrestling. This idea is considered rebellious for a girl coming from a remote area in Kashmir where the infrastructure and opportunity available for girls in a traditionally male-dominated sport like wrestling are bleak. When she first expressed her desire to learn sports her father was apprehensive. Mr. Sharma convinced him and started coaching Adeela. Within a few months of training in March of 2017, she bagged the first position in a district-level wrestling competition. After this, she brought more laurels to her family at the district and state levels. ”When I started bringing home medals and trophies, my father gained confidence in me. He knew his daughter would bring pride to him. Earlier he was apprehensive now he is more supportive, he even accompanied me to my last competition.” says Adeela. In 2020, she started her training in weight lifting. With 6 months of training, she participated in five district-level powerlifting championships and won gold medals in all of them. She aspires to participate in state and national level championships in the future.
Creating the opportunities for others – meet Shashi Sharma
Born in a small village of Rajouri district in Jammu, Shashi today is a wrestler, boxer, kho kho player, runner, mountain climber, para jumper and wants to join the Indian armed forces. She had decided early in her life that she wanted to serve the Nation, directly or indirectly. She says that even if is unable to join the Indian army, her aspirations won’t take a pause. She wishes to continue to coach and educate girls from backward hilly regions of Jammu along with Mr. Sharma under the ‘ Beti Bachao, Beti Ko Khiladi Banao’ initiative, where roads, electricity, and infrastructure are yet to reach. She says, ” I have seen girls from government schools have potential as well as desire to excel in sports, unfortunately, they don’t get proper exposure and training. They are unaware of the professional aspect of sports and they perceive it as a passion, not as a career. I want to motivate and inspire them to achieve laurels.” Shashi’s father who is a former wrestler and a retired army veteran coached her from a young age to play wrestling at the district and state levels. In 2015 she cleared trials conducted by the National Cadet Corps for Mt Everest climbing and got an opportunity to learn climbing at HMI Darjeeling. Due to floods in Nepal, she could not finish her Everest journey however successfully conquered Tiger hill and Tenzing Rock. In the same year, she also cleared trials for para jumping and got an opportunity to get trained in PTI Agra, and emerged as All India Gold Medalist with 3 successful jumps.
Shashi today is a sports coach. She continues participating in competitions and is also preparing for her army exams. She aspires to provide support to all the girls from her region who have similar dreams and continues to volunteer with Mr. Sharma.
Breaking the stereotypes – meet Riya Chib
Born and brought up in a small village of Satowali in Jammu, Riya Chib is a 19-year-old athlete who is trained in wrestling, taekwondo, wushu, and Pencak Silat. From her childhood, Riya was fascinated by sports and loved watching sports channels on television while other kids of her age would watch cartoons. When she was in 6th grade when she decided to get trained in contact sports. Other kids of her age were fearful of playing contact sports like wrestling or taekwondo which involved punches and kicks but Riya enjoyed these games. She took training under Mr. Sharma and started playing matches at the district as well as state-level and brought laurels. Riya also started playing wushu – Chinese Kung Fu with full martial arts. Today Riya is 10 times state gold medalist and 9 times national gold medalist in wushu, a sport about which several are still unaware.
She aspires to participate in wushu at the international level and bring home a medal. she says ” It is time to break the stereotyping that girls cannot play sports especially games which involve strength training. If I can do it so can other girls. Women are as strong as men and can perform equally well if an opportunity is provided.” Riya currently is a 1st-year college student and wants to join the Indian army or the Jammu&Kashmir police forces after her graduation.
Mr. Sanjeev Sharma has no intention to stop. He wants to continue in his journey of empowering girls through sports. He believes that education is beyond books. Sports teaches us the importance of patience, resilience, consistency, and hard work in its true essence. Historically girls are not expected or encouraged to play sports but times have changed and now more women are participating in sports than ever before but there is still a long way to go! He says, aside from being a fun recreational activity and a way to stay active, participating in sports is a way to gain important social, leadership skills and gain self-confidence. Besides, athletics continues to be an important arena for women to achieve gender equality.
Sarkarischool.in salutes the efforts made by Mr. Sanjeev Sharma to encourage female participation in sports and appreciates all hard work of volunteers and students under the ‘ Beti Ko Khiladi Banao’ initiative.
(With Khushi Patel for Project Gudiya)
All the stories are originally designed by team Sarkari School. Strict action will be taken against plagiarism.